Kennewick High grad teaches English in Afghanistan

Special to the HeraldJune 8, 2014 

— Seventeen years ago, a young Kenyan girl and her family embarked on a 7,000-mile journey to America, where they hoped for a better life, future and the opportunity to succeed.

She did not speak English and had no idea what to expect from the country she would later call home.

Despite the struggle to overcome the cultural and language barriers, the little girl -- now Air Force Staff Sgt. Linette Nosim -- persevered.

Nosim, a 2006 graduate of Kennewick High School, is the daughter of Rachael Tengbom. She is deployed to Bagram Airfield with the 455th Expeditionary Logistics Squadron from McChord Air Force Base.

"Everything was new to me, I grew up in a town with no running water," Nosim said. "I cried myself to sleep sometimes because it was a lot to take in, but even at a young age I knew I had to learn in order to succeed."

Nosim moved to America at the age of 9. She quickly learned how to speak English by reading, participating in summer school and watching TV to help hide her accent, so other children wouldn't make fun of her.

"The teachers were not patient with me. I didn't want to hold the class up so I stopped asking questions," Nosim said. "I wanted to learn as much as I could. I knew I had to overcome the challenge somehow."

Within a year, Nosim adjusted and made progress at school. She changed schools, made new friends and excelled in middle and high school. After graduation she joined the Air Force, where she would experience different countries and their cultures.

She volunteers her time to help Afghan students learn the language that once was a challenge for her. She and about 40 other volunteers dedicate three hours once a week at the Korean Vocational Training Center at Bagram. They also help the students learn electrical, construction and welding skills.

"To be able to help someone with one of the biggest struggles I had to face is very rewarding," Nosim said. "Not only do I get to help them learn English, but we also get to build a relationship with members from the Afghan community."

Nosim balances the volunteer commitment with her squadron duties. She works 12 hours a day, six days a week.

"Staff Sgt. Nosim seems very dedicated in everything she does," said Senior Master Sgt. Felica Young, delta flight superintendent of the 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. "She always has the attitude to bring others along. She is on board in teaching others at work and you can also see that in her volunteering efforts."

"Our philosophy is not just to come here and do our job, but make this place better, and Nosim has that desire to help," Young said. "She is helping the Afghans do better for themselves and their families."

Giving back to the Afghan people through teaching will benefit them and their families in the long run as education can be the first step to improve quality of life, Nosim said. The Afghan students are able to find jobs on base and interact with the people that are helping them live in a better country.

"Here, we get to see a direct impact," Nosim said. "I am able to work one-on-one with them and experience the appreciation they have for us. The Afghan students have an open mind when we teach and they want to learn all they can from us."

The Afghan students have a set curriculum in which volunteers review textbook lectures and converse with them about culture. Toward the end of the lectures, Nosim speaks to the students about their future goals and how she too struggled learning English.

In 2004, Nosim's mother established Voices of Hope -- a charity that helps educate women in Kenya.

"Communication is important in all relationships," Nosim said. "The first step for these young students is to be able to communicate with us and understand we are here to help them. It is important for us to help break that language barrier and partner with our Afghan community."

Communication is a learned skill and, with the help of dedicated volunteers like Nosim, the Afghan students will have the opportunity to learn, build relationships and overcome the challenges of learning English.

"It was a good thing Nosim had the resiliency to keep moving forward," Young said. "What more can you ask from her? She did not allow the road blocks to stop her from helping someone else."

-- Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez is a public affairs journalist for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

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